Remembering Pioneering Industrial Designer Sara Little Turnbull

Sara Little Turnbull consulting with clients credits: Foreseer

“If you don’t Stretch, you don’t know Where the edge Is” was a quote on a wall hanging that Sara Little Turnbull gave to Jim Collins, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Born in 1917, Sara Little Turnbull (nee: Finkelstein) epitomized those words. Throughout her long history in the industrial design profession, she was known for moving people to see beyond the obvious, to ask why, and to always remember the customer. In fact, in the 1940’s and 1950’s she wrote a few high-impact articles that raised the consciousness of corporations to regain a focus on the user. She left an indelible impact on corporate giants such as Corning, Coca Cola, 3M and even on entities such as NASA and public administrations around the globe. In her 70’s Sara was the founder and director of the Process of Change Laboratory at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which served as an idea catalyzing space for business, engineering and art students. I had the privilege of studying under Sara as she also co-taught a graduate course that enabled students from the engineering and business schools to learn about integrated product development by collaborating on a project from user need-finding, to concept development and then launch. What I remember most about Sara was her curiosity and intensity. I believe these qualities were at the heart of her longevity and impact as a designer and educator.
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Trust the Process, for real


I had two incidents come to mind that prompted me to reflect on the theme “trust the process”. See my previous post on working across different personalities. In one case, several designers I worked with were quick to jump to a UI solution, without thinking through user goals, workflows and exploring several design ideas. Strong personalities, so I caved. I started developing mock-ups of the idea, and the more I worked on them the more apparent this oversight became. In the second incident, I was working with a technology development manager that wanted a solution to something in a few weeks, in a space so complex that it really would be better off going through a more extensive design process. Looking back, I am not clear there was anything could do to influence this second case for a more favorable timeline. For the first case, I decided to go back to basics. User roles, goals, workflows and then sketches of the UI mapped to workflows. After all, Design Is Basic. Note to self, “trust the (UX) process” for real.